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The Day I Found Monet’s Easel on Gumtree

I didn’t even recognise it at first. I was just intrigued by the fact that the mechanism tilted forward rather than back. I knew that was the sign of an antique. This big old wooden cranking easel had been originally advertised on Gumtree for $250 and then finally $150. It was completely original, every single screw was still there, although several were broken.

I did not need a new easel but at that price, I’d planned to use it for engraving and preparing sketches, anything messy. Back home again I looked it up and discovered that it was a good quality antique. My best guess is that it was made anywhere between 1910 and 1920. You can buy a reconstruction of this original design for $4,000 online. I’m pretty sure what I have here is one of the originals. What a joy to discover such a thing.

Workshop Easel. Courtesy patricia m (Flickr)

Workshop Easel. Courtesy patricia m (Flickr)

It’s lovely and it has a lot of meaning for me. Mostly, that sense of it having washed up here in Perth, lost and unappreciated over time. I wonder about the history of this particular easel. Did it belong to Monet? It’s exactly the sort of a piece of equipment he would have owned. In fact, it is exactly the same model that appears in photos from his studio. You’ll notice this same model easel in photos of Renoir’s, Léger’s and Picasso’s studio as well. This was the workhorse easel for professional artists for about thirty to forty years during the period when the careers of these artists were taking off.

My heart pounds faster when I look at art stuff. I really love it. I collect art catalogues. I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t realise what I’d found. I just knew that it was arcane and unknown. The only clue I had was that it tipped forward. I knew that that was something that people did when they painted with syrupy paints that took a long time to dry. The painter leaned the canvas forward so the dust wouldn’t settle on it. Maybe some artists using charcoal or pastel would engage the tilt so the dust fell away from their work.

I’m sad the people who sold this easel weren’t able to recover its true worth. At the same time, I respect that they were able to let go of something they no longer needed. We don’t have to be burdened by stuff just because we think it might be worth something one day. We only need to value things that are useful in the here and now. These are the things that are really good for us. I believe things are of true value when we can make use of them every day.

That is something I find refreshing about the character of many Australians. We don’t seem to be so tied up and captured by historical values. People are more inclined to let go and move on. Sometimes I feel that Europeans are more tied up in the layers of cultural captivity and tradition.

I believe you only have to value the things that are good for you. I love my new easel. I am especially touched that it has travelled over so many miles and years to find its way to my studio. I wonder about the other artists who might have used it and the households it has passed through to find its way on to the Gumtree website. It makes me wonder what treasure I’ll find on there next.